Evolution of the polarization of the optical afterglow of the γ-ray burst GRB030329


The association of a supernova with GRB0303291,2 strongly supports the ‘collapsar’ model3 of γ-ray bursts, where a relativistic jet4 forms after the progenitor star collapses. Such jets cannot be spatially resolved because γ-ray bursts lie at cosmological distances; their existence is instead inferred from ‘breaks’ in the light curves of the afterglows, and from the theoretical desire to reduce the estimated total energy of the burst by proposing that most of it comes out in narrow beams. Temporal evolution of the polarization of the afterglows5,6,7 may provide independent evidence for the jet structure of the relativistic outflow. Small-level polarization (1–3 per cent)8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17 has been reported for a few bursts, but its temporal evolution has yet to be established. Here we report polarimetric observations of the afterglow of GRB030329. We establish the polarization light curve, detect sustained polarization at the per cent level, and find significant variability. The data imply that the afterglow magnetic field has a small coherence length and is mostly random, probably generated by turbulence, in contrast with the picture arising from the high polarization detected in the prompt γ-rays from GRB021206 (ref. 18).

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Figure 1: R band image of the field centred on the optical afterglow of GRB030329.
Figure 2: Evolution of the linear polarization during the first 38 days.


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This work is primarily based on observations collected at ESO, Chile, with additional data obtained at the German-Spanish Astronomical Centre Calar Alto, operated by the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg, jointly with the Spanish National Commission for Astronomy, the NOT on La Palma, Canary Islands, and the Observatorio Astronomico National, San Pedro, Mexico. We are grateful to the staff at the Paranal, Calar Alto and NOT observatories, in particular A. Aguirre, M. Alises, S. Hubrig, A. O. Jaunsen, C. Ledoux, S. Pedraz, T. Szeifert, L. Vanzi and P. Vreeswijk for obtaining the service mode data reported here.

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Correspondence to Jochen Greiner.

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Greiner, J., Klose, S., Reinsch, K. et al. Evolution of the polarization of the optical afterglow of the γ-ray burst GRB030329. Nature 426, 157–159 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02077

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